Monday, February 12, 2007

The Episcopal Church is backing the Virginia diocese in suing 11 breakaway congregations over millions of dollars worth of property.

The national church on Friday filed a lawsuit in Fairfax County similar to ones filed last month by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

The 20-page suit seeks “preliminary and permanent injunctions” prohibiting the breakaway congregations from accessing the physical church property and other assets, according to the Episcopal News Service.

Leaders of the Falls Church in Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax, two of the largest and most historic congregations that voted to leave, called the Episcopal Church’s actions “un-Christian and heavy-handed.”

The lawsuits come on the eve of a meeting of the leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion’s 38 national churches, where a major agenda topic is how to deal with the Episcopal Church and its perceived liberal views on biblical authority and sexuality.

Some conservative Anglicans say the Episcopal Church faces a potential expulsion from the Anglican Communion.

“If the Episcopal Church were half as devoted to the Scriptures as it is to its so-called ‘canons,’ perhaps it would not find itself in these dire straits,” said Tom Wilson, senior warden of the Falls Church.

The Virginia diocese and the national church argue that, according to church law, all property is held in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

However, Truro and the Falls Church own the deeds to their property.

Officials with the breakaway churches said they are confident in their legal position.

“It’s unfortunate that anyone who sides with an orthodox branch of the Anglican Communion finds itself being sued,” said Jim Oakes, senior warden of Truro. “We have studied the law and are prepared to respond.”

The other congregations named in the lawsuits are Christ the Redeemer in Centreville, Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Church of the Epiphany in Herndon, Church of Our Saviour near Leesburg, Church of the Word in Gainesville, Potomac Falls Church in Sterling, St. Margaret’s in Woodbridge, St. Paul’s in Haymarket and St. Stephen’s in the Northern Neck.

The congregations have voted to affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a mission under the Church of Nigeria.

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